Fines for leaving our homes during lockdowns or failing to wear a mask, imprisonment for breaking hotel quarantine or crossing closed borders, bans on singing and dancing are just a few of the once unthinkables that are part of our way of life for the time being – all for the right reason of course.
But imagine if they were permanent; imagine never being able to travel to see a son or daughter living interstate or overseas, imagine not ever being able to send your child to school, imagine being holed up in your house indefinitely.
This is the reality facing many Afghanis under Taliban rule and the reason why so many were desperately trying to flee the country before the Americans’ departure date of August 31.
It’s also why thousands of Afghan refugees, particularly the persecuted Hazaras, took the incredibly risky decision to seek safety in places like Australia after the Taliban resurgence more than a decade ago.
These people came to Australia by boat assuming that as legitimate refugees they would be resettled and one day be reunited with loved ones remaining in Afghanistan.
How wrong they were. Not only were they put in detention initially, year after year they were refused permanency and they still remain in limbo today. These asylum seekers have no access to social security but are able to work – and pay taxes, their children can go to school but their university studies are not subsidised, it is too dangerous for them to return home, nor can they bring their families here.
Yet the reason they left Afghanistan is exactly the same as the reason we, as a nation, have been helping thousands of Afghan people evacuate Kabul, that is, fear of what the Taliban will do as they implement their extreme form of Islam. It’s the reason why we sent troops to fight alongside the US forces in the first place.
Yes, these asylum seekers came here by boat, but they didn’t have the luxury of being airlifted out by western governments. Yes, they used every cent they had to pay people smugglers to get here, but they were desperate and had no alternative.
The treatment they have received and continue to receive since coming to Australia is shameful. Prime Minister Morrison’s recent statements insisting people who arrived by boat will not be allowed to permanently settle in Australia is both unrealistic and totally lacking in compassion.
The incredible stress and worry these people experience every day is compounded by the knowledge that their families in Afghanistan are not safe. It’s hard enough for them to be apart from their parents, spouses and children, but it’s even harder when they can’t get in touch with them and don’t know their whereabouts or what the future holds for them.
Habibullah is a 37-year-old Hazara who escaped to Australia with his wife and daughter eight years ago. They had another child here in Australia. He told me he had a “very bad experience” with the Taliban because he worked for the United Nations and it was too dangerous to stay there. He said he was a positive person but now he was “losing his health” through worry and he felt like he was “dying every day”.
Habibullah is not alone. The human misery I witnessed at the Kilburn House of Welcome last month isn’t as obvious or dramatic as the scenes of chaos and panic outside the Kabul airport. But it is just as real and it is in our own backyard.
Please Mr Morrison, let something good come out of this mess.Jump to next article